ON MONDAY (Dec 12), The Herald began receiving reports of pandemonium in the newly opened Post Office in WHSmith on Terrace Road in Aberystwyth.
Texts, tweets and Facebook posts reported ‘angry people’, ‘not pleasant’, and ‘epic fail Post Office!’ One eye-witness, Nicki Wilkins, told The Herald that she waited more than 20 minutes in a queue of at least 18 people: “One elderly lady was not happy at having to stand so long to get her pension. A member of the public helpfully fetched her a chair. In the queue, there was lots of complaining, tutting and raised eyebrows. Some people walked in then straight back out again after seeing the queue. I overheard someone say: ‘How is this an improvement? The other one was spacious; this is cramped’.”
Refusing to blame the queue and delays on a Christmas rush, Post Office counter staff agreed that it was ‘always like this in here’. They told customers that they simply do not have enough counters to serve from. Helpful as they are, the counter staff inevitably bear the brunt of people’s anger when they are forced to wait for so long.
Counter staff told customers that the Post Office at WHSmith were considering installing a self-service counter for buying stamps and posting parcels. One Save Aberystwyth Post Office campaigner said: “We, the citizens, worked bloody hard to get Smiths to listen to us and we predicted that it would be awful.”
As campaigners to keep the Crown Post Office on Great Darkgate Street open forecasted, The Herald understands that the UKVI Biometric Enrolment Service is not currently available at the Post Office in WHSmith on Terrace Road. The service is essential in a town with vital international connections, not least Aberystwyth University. Foreign nationals from outside the European Economic Area often need to apply for a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). A BRP proves the holder’s right to stay, work or study in the United Kingdom. Contrary to the reports that we have received, however, the Post Office website claims the BRP service is available in the Post Office in WHSmith on Terrace Road. As The Herald goes to press, we have not managed to get an answer from the Post Office in WHSmith about the availability of the BRP service. Herald readers, please do write in and let us know about your experiences with the BRP and other Post Office services in WHSmith.
UK-WIDE INDUSTRIAL ACTION
The pandemonium in Aberystwyth will be matched in Post Offices across the UK next week when workers take industrial action. Post Office Ltd state that they expect industrial action to affect ‘a small number of our branches’ on Monday (Dec 19) and Tuesday (Dec 20). They expect that ‘strike action will affect less than three hundred of our branches, and 97% of our 11,600 branches will be operating as normal. Royal Mail also expects its services to ‘be operating as normal’.
The Communications Workers Union (CWU) plan to stage five days of strikes in the run-up to Christmas. A long-running dispute over jobs, pensions and branch closures lies behind the walkout, which is expected to include Christmas Eve. CWU previously took industrial action in September this year and again in October. Staff and management are in dispute over the closure of a final salary pension scheme, job losses and the franchising of Crown Post Offices, mostly to WHSmith. Crown Post Offices are larger branches, such as the former Great Darkgate Street branch, which offer a full range of services. Traditionally, Crown Post Offices are sited on high streets in the heart of the town and community.
Dave Ward, CWU’s General Secretary, said his members were being ‘forced into fighting to save their jobs and this great institution from terminal decline’: “We didn’t want to be in this position but, unless we stand up now, the Post Office as we know it will cease to exist. We are defending the very future of the Post Office in this country.
“We want a Post Office that works for everyone; for communities, for small and medium-sized businesses, and for the people who serve them – our hard working members – but the people running the Post Office have no serious plan other than further closures and managed decline, and we won’t accept that.”
The CWU accuses Post Office Ltd of launching ‘an unprecedented attack on the jobs, job security and pensions of thousands of hard-working and loyal Post Office workers’. The union claims it is Post Office Ltd which is dictating a ‘path of conflict and industrial disputes’.
It is not known whether the Post Office in WHSmith will be affected by any of the days of industrial action. To be on the safe side and to avoid the delays that are already causing pandemonium in WHSmith, Herald readers are advised to access Post Office services in Penparcau, Waunfawr or villages that have been fortunate enough to retain sub Post Offices. So, post early for Christmas – or maybe send an email and use a parcel courier!